Bel' tolls for Ireland U19s' Euro hopes
There was heartbreak in Belgium for Ireland's U19 side as they missed out on a place in the European Championship finals despite beating Belgium in their final qualifying game last night and Sweden now advance to the finals in Georgia in the summer.
"A lot of these players have big futures in the game. I don't think anybody could argue but that the future is bright," said team boss Tom Mohan after the 1-0 win over Belgium.
Hopes of a place at the Euro finals for the first time since a side containing Jeff Hendrick and new senior cap John Egan reached the last four in Romania in 2011 were raised when Tom Mohan's side last week won the first of their three matches in the Elite round of qualification, beating Italy 2-0 in Belgium.
But a 3-0 loss to Sweden in the second game last weekend put matters out of Irish hands and even a win win the final match last night might not have been enough.
Ireland did the needful as a first half own goal by Wout Faes, from an error forced by Trevor Clarke, was enough for a 1-0 win over hosts Belgium.
Yet Sweden did their bit, beating the Italians 1-0 so they top the group and join the likes of England in the finals. There will be at least some Irish presence at the Euro finals this year as Colin O'Brien's U17 side have qualified, that tournament to be held in Croatia in May but for Mohan's U19s, it was a case of close but not close enough.
"We were outstanding to a man. The lads did Irish football proud tonight. To perform so well against a top nation like Belgium who were very good says everything about them," said Mohan.
"It's very disappointing but we have to live with it and move on. These boys are ambitious and know they did enough to reach the finals. To beat Italy and Belgium was so good but maybe we were a bit tired in the second game and paid the price.
"I couldn't have asked more of the players and the staff. The lads showed character and hard work.
"We had to defend so well after going ahead. Our back four with Conor Masterson and Declan Rice excelling and Caoimhin Kelleher making impressive saves were very good. Ronan Hale put in a great shift. Trevor Clarke was outstanding.
"We could only carry out our side of the bargain and hope that Italy did us a favour against Sweden. If you look at Connor Ronan, Steven Kinsella and Jake Doyle-Hayes also missing it's been an incredible effort from our lads."